As International football was packed away for another month following an unexpected (by me at least!) 2-1 victory over South Korea, talk for Northern Ireland fans returned to a familiar subject: club over country or not? Of course, the domestic schedule took no break for International duty but with all top-flight fixtures moved to Friday evening there could be no excuse for having to make that choice for a lot of supporters.
There are various arguments for not following the fortunes of the IFA’s national team. For some, it is a simple matter supporting FAI instead, which is a well-established discussion that doesn’t really need any further thoughts added to it. For others, reasons have been cited relating to the National Stadium deal with Linfield – despite being a Glentoran fan, it’s not really a thought that has entered my mind and there are many like me in that regard.
For a long time, the argument may well have simply been a lack of interest in the team, a cynic would say that’s because of a lack of success and they may well be right. Success breeds interest and with-it attendances swell, in our case it is to the point that demand for Campaign Cards well exceeds supply.
There appears to be a growing irritation that despite the huge growth in International attendances, domestic leagues do not see a similar level of growth. That this new wave of NI fans are previously Armchair supporters of their assumed English Premier League giant who are merely ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of what is popular right now without having served their time in the trenches of their local Irish League club. They’ve done the bourgeoise jaunt to Oslo, Basel and Prague but haven’t experienced endured the long bus trip to Ferney Park.
I can see the argument from both sides of the fence and as usual, I’m taking my perch right in the middle of it. Watching players like Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas, Niall McGinn and now Paul Smyth making their mark on the international scene it gives you a certain level of pride in our local league system. Despite their colours at club level, it’s great to see players who have had their grounding locally make it to what some consider as the biggest stage in football. It’s great to look back and remember watching them before their breakthrough.
It seems that it would be natural to support the grassroots levels that should eventually supply the talent for your national side. However, for many a relationship with their local club is one formed over many years or even generations. It’s not something that can so easily just be picked up out of the blue. Perhaps in this area clubs need to do more to bring new fans in and retain them, as Carrick Rangers have made a point of doing.
It’s a theory that may work for some but probably not all. For a lot of people, there might just be no level of interest in the local game, a shame of course. Some people enjoy the sense of occasion that comes with international matchdays in the sense that they are few and far between when compared with a full domestic league campaign.
Being as I am and having an enjoyment of clichés, to sum this up it can be best described as that ‘there’s no accounting for taste’. For some, the idea of a Saturday without a burger on the terrace is unthinkable whereas for others it could well be the furthest thought from their minds.
Many different people with many different opinions and this is without even considering the argument of how Amateur Football kick-offs deny Irish League clubs a boost in attendances, that’s a can of worms to be opened another day…